NZ Abseiling Manual for Instructors 32 | 5th Edition | 2013

Page 1



The New Zealand Mountain Safety Council The New Zealand Mountain Safety Council (MSC) is a national organisation with a mandate from our member organisations to encourage safe participation in land-based outdoor activities. We facilitate the setting of standards, offer training and education opportunities, create and distribute resources, lead public awareness campaigns and foster positive support in the community so that more people can discover and enjoy New Zealand’s outdoors safely.

Our mission is to: • Enable people to enjoy their recreation safely in the outdoors. • Foster positive community support for outdoor safety. • Promote the development and maintenance of national outdoor safety standards for land-based activities.

Our outcome: • More people participating safely in land-based outdoor activity.

Our goals are that: • An increased number of leaders, teachers, instructors and guides are inspired, inspiring, competent and retained as leaders. • Groups and clubs effectively promote and deliver increased safety in the outdoors. • Commercial operators operate safely. • The community is more aware of outdoor safety. • The MSC is financially strong. More information regarding the Mountain Safety Council’s objectives, responsibilities and current projects can be found at


Mountain Safety Manual 32


A MANUAL FOR INSTRUCTORS Fifth edition Compilers: Karen Corcoran, Andrea Corrigan, Bruce Postill and Nigel Seebeck


Published by: New Zealand Mountain Safety Council 19 Tory Street, PO Box 6027, Wellington 6141 Tel: 04 385 7162 | Fax: 04 385 7366 Email:

Copyright Š 2013 New Zealand Mountain Safety Council 1985, 1988, 1995, 2002 Fifth edition published 2013 All rights reserved. Enquiries should be made to the publisher. ISBN: 978-0-908931-32-3 Compilers: Bruce Postill and Nigel Seebeck Managing editors: Karen Corcoran and Andrea Corrigan Cover and design: Danielle Millar Illustrations: Sonia Frimmel and Scott Pearson Cover photograph: Orton Bradley Outdoor Education Centre Publishing services: Lift Education The New Zealand Mountain Safety Council gratefully acknowledges the financial contribution received the Lottery Grants Board, which has enabled this manual to be fully revised.

Disclaimer: The information contained in this manual is based on the latest abseil information available. The New Zealand Mountain Safety Council has sought advice from experts to ensure the situations described in the manual reflect current best practice, however the information given is general in nature. This book is designed to support trained abseiling instructors and outdoor leaders. It does not replace practical training courses. The New Zealand Mountain Safety Council accepts no legal liability or responsibility for any incidents occurring as a result of following or not following information in this manual. All readers are responsible for their own safety.











Zones for managing risk

Figure 2

Pre-trip planning 6

Figure 3a

Example of rope logbook layout


Figure 3b

Example of equipment logbook layout


Figure 4

Modern rope construction



Figure 5 Rope storage bag 13 Figure 6 Overhand lay 13 Figure 7

Chain coiling


Figure 8a

Figure of eight on a bight


Figure 8b

Re-threaded figure of eight


Figure 9

Double fisherman’s bend 17

Figure 10

Tying a clove hitch

Figure 11

Italian hitch

Figure 12

Italian hitch tied off


Figure 13

Prusik hitch


Figure 14

French Prusik hitch


Figure 15

Klemheist Prusik 21

Figure 16

Tape knot 22



Figure 17 Carabiners 24 Figure 18

Do not load a carabiner three ways.

Figure 19

Do not site a descender with a levering load on the carabiner’s gate. 26

Figure 20

Figure of eight descenders


Figure 21

Clipping onto a figure of eight


Figure 22

Three ways of backing up a belay plate using Prusiks


Figure 23

Full body harness


Figure 24

Sit harness


Figure 25

Chest harness (manufactured)


Figure 26

Chest harness (improvised)



Figure 27 Load sharing 42 Figure 28

Attaching anchors using multiple slings or ropes


Figure 29

Attaching anchors using one large sling or rope


Figure 30

Attaching anchors using three anchors


Figure 31

Attaching anchors using two separate sound anchors


Figure 32 Abseil set-up 47 Figure 33

Instructors’ safety line set-up


Figure 34 Prusik system 58 Figure 35

Single locked figure of eight descender


Figure 36

Tying off a belay plate



PREFACE The New Zealand Mountain Safety Council (MSC)’s mandate is to encourage safe participation in land-based outdoor activities. One of the ways we do this is by ensuring that safety standards are developed for all levels of outdoor activity, and these are communicated through the development of quality resources and media as well as through training and education. This revised book, Abseiling: A Manual for Instructors, is one of those resources. It is a central source for knowledge around abseiling. This manual is suitable for all outdoor enthusiasts, but is aimed at abseiling instructors and those leading abseiling activities in the New Zealand outdoors. While we know this manual will be of immense value to you as a resource, abseiling skills and knowledge are best developed by putting theory into practice. We strongly encourage you to continue learning and keep your skills current by attending practical courses. If you love the outdoors and want to learn skills and techniques to enhance your outdoors experience, then visit the MSC website or contact your local MSC branch for details. I present the fifth edition of Abseiling: A Manual for Instructors to you with a sense of achievement and pride. Our team have worked diligently in its review and production to ensure we have included the latest standards and best practice. We have built upon previous editions of the manual, introducing new information, tools and techniques that have been developed since the last edition. I acknowledge and appreciate the energy and enthusiasm that has gone into completing this work. I wish you many years of safe and enjoyable outdoor recreation.

Darryl Carpenter Chief Executive Officer New Zealand Mountain Safety Council


ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS The MSC would like to thank all past and current abseil instructors for their support in keeping this handbook up to date. The MSC is also grateful to all those involved in this edition and earlier editions of this manual: Lorena Allister, Mike Atkinson, Paul Babbage, Nick Banks, Marty Beare, Pete Brailsford, Ray Button, Ian Calhaem, Des Coe, Ben Corcoran, Karen Corcoran, Andrea Corrigan, Theresa Crewdson, Grant Davidson, John Entwisle, Barbara Freeney, Sonia Frimmel, Ray Goldring, Ann Hayman, Charlie Hobbs, Jamie Holding, Mick Hopkinson, Chris Knol, Lindsay Main, John Maine, Jim Masson, Danielle Millar, Dave Morgan, Pete Ozich, Scott Pearson, Ian Phillpot, Trevor Plaisted, Bruce Postill, Richard Schmidt, Lorna Schmidt, Nigel Seebeck, Bev Smith, Hugh van Noorden, Des Williams and Pete Zimmer. The MSC thanks the following people for the use of photographs in this manual: Cover, Page 41: © Orton Bradley Outdoor Education Centre; Pages 1, 27 © Jimmy Ponsford; Pages 9, 15, 33, 39, 53, 55, 61 © Nathan Watson; Page 23 © Sean Mulvany; Page 36 © Aspiring Enterprises; Page 49 © Nigel Seebeck. The MSC thanks the illustrators for their work: Sonia Frimmel: Figures 2, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8a, 8b, 9, 12, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 23, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32(a), 32(b), 32(c) Scott Pearson: Figures 1, 10, 11, 13, 14, 15, 22, 24, 26, 32, 33, 34, 35, 36







PHOTO Jimmy Ponsford



This handbook is for instructors involved in basic recreational abseil instruction, and details the elements for instructing beginners in safe abseil practices. Usually perceived as a high-risk activity, abseiling can bring a great sense of achievement to a person as they overcome their fears, be it heights, insecurity about equipment or having to put their trust in another person. Hanging in space, the exposure, being in control, the excitement of risk and sense of accomplishment can make abseiling a unique personal development activity. Most people, regardless of age, fitness or physical size, can take part in abseiling. Abseiling is an intense activity. The instructor must have good people management skills, be prepared and equipped to react to an emergency situation, and must be ever-vigilant, monitoring and double checking equipment and anticipating participants’ movements. Abseiling originated as a part of mountaineering. It is the system climbers use to descend mountains or climbs that are too steep to climb down. Abseiling is now used by people for a wide variety of applications, including industrial construction and inspection, window cleaning, tree work, caving, canyoning, mountaineering, and recreational and youth development programmes. All these different users have developed systems and codes of practice to suit their specific application. This book details one of the currently accepted, best practice systems for basic recreational abseil instruction.

NOTE At the time of revising this manual, Activity Safety Guidelines for managing safety in abseiling are being developed. They are due to be finalised in 2013. Once complete, these will provide best practice guidelines for everyone in the industry. More information (and, in future, the completed guidelines) can be found at

RISK MANAGEMENT Abseiling is a high risk activity, with the potential for serious harm and even death. As an instructor, you must have the ability to identify the risks, put strategies in place to manage the risks and have the technical skills and ability to cope with emergencies. This book provides fundamental information on the use and maintenance of abseil equipment for basic abseiling with beginners. It does not replace practical training courses in abseiling instruction. Other essential training (for example, first aid, instructional techniques and risk management) is required before you can start instructing others in abseiling. You can obtain training in these skills from the New Zealand Mountain Safety Council (MSC) or other nationally recognised providers. 2


BASIC PRINCIPLES OF RISK MANAGEMENT AT AN ABSEIL SITE Identify the risks Some examples include: • Exposure to fall, injury or death. • Hazard zones, falling objects. • Psychological harm, participant abilities. • Environmental factors, weather, unstable ground.

Strategies to manage risks Some examples include: • Maintain detailed log of the age, usage and condition of abseil equipment (Figures 3a and 3b). Always check equipment prior to use. • Give sound, clear directions. Ensure participants understand requirements of activity, task and management. • Maintain control and keep activity within participants’ abilities. • Establish zones/areas with rules for each. For example: ZONE ONE

Top of cliff. No person past this rope barrier without instructor consent. Must be on belay.


Cliff face and abseiler landing/fall site for objects from above. Only abseiler in this zone.


Ground level. Safe, comfortable area to observe from.


Access to cliff top (zone five). Rules for safe access.


Defined, safe, comfortable cliff-top area for watching or waiting for your turn.

• Check and recheck anchors. Always use sound, solid and bombproof anchors. • Double check: • Harness fitted correctly • Helmets, straps • Carabiners, gates locked • Knots • Clothing, footwear • Loose hair • Descender


Figure 1 Zones for managing risk

EMERGENCY PLAN A comprehensive risk management plan will always include content about what to do if something goes wrong, commonly known as your emergency response plan. Establish a ‘what if’ plan with key members of the participant group, for example, what to do if the instructor is injured or ill. Ensure participants know who to contact and how in the event of an emergency. Have emergency equipment available, that is, make sure all participants know where to find the first aid kit, car keys, cell phone and rescue gear. As an instructor, you will have the skills and equipment to rescue an abseiler from any situation. This includes lowering the abseiler to the ground and descending or ascending ropes to effect rescue.


Before your trip, prepare a safety plan, listing things that could go wrong and steps that could be taken to minimise or deal with each situation. Ask yourself: 1. What are the gains/benefits of this activity? 2. What could go wrong? What hazards or dangers could you encounter in your abseil operation? 3. What could cause it to go wrong? 4. How could we prevent it from going wrong? What are the factors that could affect the safe operation of your activity? What equipment do you need to successfully complete your planned activity? Have you considered wear, age and the condition of your equipment? 5. What will we do if an emergency does occur? Is there enough equipment to keep everyone safe, even during an emergency rescue where equipment and resources are often stretched? Make sure the safety plan addresses accidents and medical emergencies, and includes details such as escape routes, communication methods and how to get help. See the MSC’s Outdoor Safety: Risk Management for Outdoor Leaders manual 38 for more information on risk management and dealing with emergencies.

PRE-TRIP PLANNING A safe, successful and enjoyable trip is the result of careful planning and preparation. The MSC recommends that before you go into the outdoors, you follow the five simple rules of New Zealand’s Outdoor Safety Code.

1. PLAN YOUR TRIP Seek local knowledge and plan the route you will take and the amount of time you can reasonably expect it to take. Department of Conservation (DOC) Visitor Centres and i-SITEs are a good source of local information.

2. TELL SOMEONE Tell someone your plans and complete written Outdoors Intentions using the tools available at At the very least, tell a friend or family member where you are going. Tell them a date and time they should raise the alarm if you haven’t returned.




3. BE AWARE OF THE WEATHER New Zealand’s weather can be highly unpredictable. Check the forecast and expect weather changes. Check track and hut conditions. Beware of rivers – if in doubt, STAY OUT.

4. KNOW YOUR LIMITS Challenge yourself within your physical limits and experience. Learn essential skills and expand your limits through an MSC course.

5. TAKE SUFFICIENT SUPPLIES Make sure you have enough food, clothing, equipment and emergency rations for the worst-case scenario. Take appropriate means of communication, such as a mountain radio or Personal Locator Beacon (PLB), and know how to use them.

ABSEIL DAY PREP Does anyone have any students with medical issues that we should know about?

- loose rocks - safe zones - sharp rocks - weather - slippery - wet - temp - unsuitable anchor points

I’ll do a safety plan.

I’ll check the party first aid kit. Everyone takes their personal kit.

Figure 2 Pre-trip planning


I’ll check the equipment.


FIRST AID KIT A basic first aid kit is an essential piece of equipment for spending time in the outdoors. The types and quantities of first aid equipment will vary, depending on the type and duration of the trip. Refer to the MSC’s New Zealand Outdoor First Aid Manual 33 for more information.



The  following are examples of rope and equipment logbooks. A logbook entry � must be filled in for any piece of equipment used, as this allows users to track important details such as how much use the equipment has had, if a rope has been shortened or if the equipment has been damaged. � Rope Log BookEntry Entry Rope Logbook Branded colour code:


Start date: Branded colour code: Date of purchase: Retirement date:

......../......./....... ........................ ......../......./.......

Type: .............. Diameter/Length: ........................

Rope Log Book Entry Date of purchase: ......../......./.......

Type: .............. or after: Diameter/Length: ........... abseils, ........................ whichever occurs first.

Start date: Work history Retirement date: Date Instructor

......../......./....... ......../......./....... or after: Wear/Damage/Cleaning



Work history


........... abseils, whichever occurs first. Total abseils Running total abseils Total abseils

Running total abseils

Figure 3a Example of rope logbook layout

Equipment Log Book Entry Equipment item

Purchase date

Record of damage/repairs/inspection/cleaning

Equipment item

Retirement date Purchase date

Record of damage/repairs/inspection/cleaning

Equipment Logbook Equipment BookEntry Entry Log ......../......./....... ......../......./....... ......../......./.......

Actual retirement date Retirement date ......../......./....... ......../......./.......

Actual retirement date ......../......./.......

Figure 3b Example of equipment logbook layout




PHOTO Nathan Watson





ROPES FUNCTIONS Ropes at an abseil site have different functions and requirements: • Abseil rope that participants descend on. • Belay rope that is connected to the participant as a safety backup rope. • Rope and slings that are used to link anchors. • Prusiks that are used for a self-protected abseil or to ascend a rope in an emergency situation.

ABSEIL ROPE Static rope is low stretch and has a robust mantle (sheath) designed for abseiling. The size should be a minimum of 10mm and a maximum of 12mm diameter. Rope sizes less than 10mm are more likely to fail as a result of contact with sharp ledges or stone fall and may be harder for the abseiler to control. Greater than 12mm rope exceeds the design criteria for most abseil devices. The length should suit the site. Lengths of up to 200 metres are available from climbing shops. A standard rope length is usually 50 metres. Kern Mantle

Figure 4 Modern rope construction

BELAY ROPE The ideal belay (safety) rope is a 10 to 12mm diameter dynamic climbing rope. This rope is designed for rock climbing and mountaineering. It has the strength and elasticity to stop a climber who may fall the entire length of the rope. It is supple, easy to handle and works smoothly in the Italian hitch belay.


Static ropes with a minimum diameter of 10mm are best for linking anchors. These are low stretch so the anchor tie-off point will move less than with a dynamic rope. Using 10mm (minimum) anchor ropes or 25mm tubular slings keeps all the elements in the abseil system at a comparable strength. Another option is to use a cordalette to link the anchor points. This is a static rope with a smaller diameter (7–9mm). It is usually used in anchor system construction where multiple strands are used together to give an equal or higher rating than a single diameter rope.

PRUSIKS These are small diameter (5mm–7mm) accessory cords tied into loops and wrapped around a rope. They are moveable loops that rely on friction and allow a loop to be locked off along a main line or safety system. Prusiks are used for ascending a fixed rope, for personal safety at the top of a climb or while abseiling with self-protection.

STANDARDS FOR ROPES Dynamic ropes should comply with one of the following standards: • The European standard EN 892 • UIAA safety label These standards are so successful that certified climbing ropes have only been known to break when loaded over a sharp edge of rock. Static ropes, when under body weight, should have very low stretch. In general, abseiling ropes should have a strength rating of 22 kN. There are four standards that are relevant in New Zealand, which are not completely compatible with each other: • UIAA safety label • The European static rope standard, EN 1891 • The Australian standard for rescue ropes, AS 4142.3 • The American Cordage Institute standard CE 1801 Each of these standards have different specifications, but ropes for abseiling and other professional uses should comply with at least one of them. Prusik cord needs to comply with or exceed the European standard EN 562. Contact your local outdoor shop to see what types and brands of rope are available.




CARE OF ROPES • Maintain a detailed written logbook of the purchase date and number of times each rope is used (see Figure 3a for an example). Alcohol or water based markers can be used to mark ropes. • Inspect each rope visually and by passing your hands along its length, feeling for any internal or external irregularity. Do this before each period of use. • Protect ropes from rock edges with rope protectors, such as carpet. • Do not stand on the rope. This forces grit/dust into the core of rope that can cut into the fibres as the rope flexes during use. • Wash ropes regularly, using cold water with a little soap suitable for synthetics, using a modern washing machine (not with a central rotating agitator). Chain coil the rope first to prevent tangles and knots (Figure 7). Dry the rope in a shady, cool, well ventilated site. Do not use a clothes drier. • Synthetic ropes have a low melting point and care needs to be taken that a working, moving rope is not in contact with a stationary rope. People who abseil fast, generating heat in the abseil device, damage the sheath and sometimes the core of the rope. • UV light degrades synthetic ropes. Store ropes in a dark, well ventilated site. Never store ropes in contact with petroleum products or concrete, or near battery acid. Finishing products used in concrete and the fumes from battery acid can damage nylon.

LIFE OF A ROPE Synthetic rope properties remain relatively stable for a period of about three years, after which time they slowly degrade. Manufacturers’ recommendations need to be followed. Most manufacturers give a 10-year maximum lifespan from the date of manufacture. Please note: 10 years would be if a product had little to no use and was stored in optimum conditions. As a guideline: • 4–5 years with occasional use • 2–3 years if it were used every weekend • 3–6 months if it were used daily. It is important to follow the manufacturers’ guidelines for when to retire any of your equipment. This will also be subject to use, wear, UV exposure, falls, and contact with foreign substances or contaminants. Watch out for deformities, fuzzing or firming. In very harsh environments the rope may only last a few outings. However you can expect more than 250 abseils from a well maintained rope.



ROPE STORAGE Rope storage bag Pros: Fast, neat, feeds out freely. Cons: Requires dedicated rope bag for each rope. It is easy to abseil off the end of the rope if the end is not tied in.

Overhand lay

Figure 5 Rope storage bag

Pros: Quick and neat, rope usually unfolds easily. Cons: May need to be re-lapped or spaghettied if non tangles are crucial.



1. Figure 6 Overhand lay

3. 5.

Figure 6 Overhand lay

Chain coiling Pro: Good for washing or to hang wet rope while it dries. 1. Fold rope in half and in half again. 3.



Figure 7 Chain coiling


SLINGS Flat nylon webbing is popular with climbers for anchor slings. It is ideal for putting around rock bollards; the webbing’s flat surface gives good friction and is unlikely to roll off as rope might. It fits easily into cracks. It is supple, light and easy to handle. Webbing can be purchased from outdoor shops as sewn slings or in lengths to make slings using the tape knot (see figure 16 on page 22). The most common type of sling used is 25mm tubular webbing. It is now possible to buy much thinner webbing that has the same or similar strength (such as Spectra® or Dyneema®), but it is important to be aware of their limitations, such as having less tolerance to abrasion.

STANDARDS FOR SLINGS Only purchase webbing or pre-sewn slings specifically manufactured for climbing use that comply with or exceed European standards EN 565 or EN566, or carry a UIAA safety label.

CARE OF SLINGS The care of slings is much the same as for rope, but you need to take extreme care with sharp edges and abrasion. Be diligent with inspections – a small cut will result in a significant loss of strength because of the webbing’s thinness.

LIFE OF SLINGS Webbing is not as robust as rope. It has no outer sheath, is softer and has a large surface area. It is more exposed to the elements, abrasion and UV light. In most outdoor situations the life span of webbing would be less than half of a comparable strength rope, so it is critical to follow the manufacturers’ instructions.










PHOTO Nathan Watson



KEY THINGS TO REMEMBER WHEN TYING ANY KNOT • Dress it: Make it look tidy. • Leave plenty of tail: A hand span (100–150mm). • Use the appropriate knot, hitch or bend for the job. Setting and dressing the knot is important to retain its design strength. It needs to flow evenly, without twists and overlapping. All sections of the knot should be evenly loaded and hand tight when tied. Always leave enough length in the tail to allow for tightening – a hand span (100–150mm) is a good guide. It is difficult to retain knots in nylon climbing tape with its smooth surface and supple properties. There are many recorded occasions where tape knots have worked loose and slipped undone with disastrous results. Always check tape knots prior to use and tie them as tight as possible.

NOTE For information on rope strengths, breaking strains and the effect of knots, refer to the MSC’s Alpine Rescue Techniques Manual 36.

FIGURE OF EIGHT KNOT The figure of eight is one of the strongest knots. It is also easy to tell when it is tied incorrectly. This knot is used to attach anchor ropes and the belay/safety rope to the abseiler. It can be tied either by doubling the rope and forming a loop to clip into a carabiner (figure of eight on a bight); or tied singly into the rope, passed around a fixed anchor (such as a tree) with the tail of the rope coming back to thread through and retrace the original knot (re-threaded figure of eight). The tail end of the rope remaining after the knot is firmly tied and dressed should be 100 to 150mm (a hand span) long. When forming a loop to clip into a carabiner, keep the loop small and appropriate for the task.

2. 1.

Figure 8a Figure of eight on a bight



1. 3.



Figure 8b Re-threaded figure of eight

FISHERMAN’S BEND A fisherman’s bend (also known as a knot) is used to join two rope ends of equal diameter. The bend is most commonly used to join short lengths of rope to form Prusiks or cordalettes. To tie a double fisherman’s bend, tie one end of the rope in a double loop around the other end. Repeat this with the other end of the rope. Tighten the loops then pull together with both hands on the outer rope loop. The loops should pull together as illustrated with the bend locking together, both tied on the same side of the rope. If not, one set of loops will have to be untied and retied around the rope in the opposite direction. The tail end of the rope remaining after the bend is firmly tied should be at least 100mm. If using 6mm rope, the tail end remaining could be reduced to 70mm.

Figure 9 Double fisherman’s bend


CLOVE HITCH Two of the main benefits of the clove hitch are: • It is easy to tie and untie, even after being weighted. • It is easy to adjust so that you can either lengthen or shorten your tie-in point to the anchor without untying or unclipping from carabiners on the anchor. It is important to set the hitch immediately after tying and before weighting it by firmly pulling on the ends of the rope. This will limit the potential for it to slip. This hitch may not work well when the rope is stiff or frozen. It should not be used in situations where the rope is often weighted and unweighted, when it may be subjected to very large weights or when it is near the end of the rope.

Figure 10 Tying a clove hitch

ITALIAN HITCH The Italian hitch is used as a belay (brake) method on the safety rope, protecting the abseiler during descent. It is also used on the abseil rope anchor so that the instructor may, in an emergency, lower the abseiler or release tension on the abseil rope/s. This hitch, when used with a 10–12mm rope, needs to be used with a large pear-shaped carabiner. D-shaped carabiners will often restrict the hitch’s working Italian hitch movement. To tie, form a loop around the rope and clip a lockgate pear-shaped carabiner over both ropes of the formed loop. The knot will work from either end of the rope as it will simply reverse across the carabiner.



Figure 11 Italian hitch

Figure 12 shows an Italian hitch tied off with two half hitches. This is the most common way to tie off the the abseil rope, or the belay rope when required. Note: If the rope is new, stiff or is to be left unattended at the top, it is recommended that the loop of the tied-off Italian hitch be clipped back to the anchor (as shown). It is vital that the tail is long enough so if the system were to slip, the knot would tighten and lock onto the rope before tightening on the clipped-back carabiner as once this has happened you no longer have a realisable system. If this is not the situation, then two or three half hitches and a minimum 30cm (length of your forearm) tail is sufficient.

Figure 12 Italian hitch tied off


PRUSIK HITCHES A Prusik hitch (also known as a Prusik knot) is used by abseil instructors for self-protected abseils and emergency rescue techniques. There are many different variations on the Prusik hitch and each has strengths and weaknesses. It is important that the instructor is aware of these before choosing to use a Prusik hitch for a specific task. In this manual we will only cover a couple of these. The knot is made in a cord of smaller diameter to the rope that you are tying it to (at least 2mm smaller than the diameter of the rope but not going lower than 5mm). A general Prusik diameter is usually between 6 and 7mm for a 10–12mm rope. When unweighted, the hitch can be slid to any part of the rope and then fixed in position by weighting the hitch. The bigger the difference between the rope and the cord, the more it will grip. Variability in ropes may mean that four turns are required, not three. The weight of the person will also influence this.

Figure 13 Prusik hitch

FRENCH PRUSIK The French Prusik hitch is notable for its ability to lock in both directions and its ability to be bump-released under load. This makes it particularly useful in a self-protected abseil situation, where you may need to weight your Prusik and then continue down the rope.



Figure 14 French Prusik hitch

KLEMHEIST PRUSIK The Klemheist is used in a similar way to the classic Prusik. It will only grip in one direction, so it must be tied with this in mind. When wrapping it around the rope, it is important to start at the top and work down the rope. Finish by putting the long end through the short loop at the top.

Figure 15 Klemheist Prusik


TAPE KNOT The tape knot is used to join 25mm nylon climber’s webbing (tape). If the webbing is a smaller diameter than this, it is recommended that you buy the slings pre-sewn. Commence tying with a simple overhand knot tied loosely around the other end of the tape. The unknotted end of the tape then follows back, mirror fashion, taking care to keep the webbing surfaces flat on each other. The tail end of the webbing remaining after the knot is firmly tied should be at least 100–150mm (roughly a handspan long). Knots in nylon webbing have a tendency to work loose and you will need to check them prior to each use.

Figure 16 Tape knot






PHOTO Sean Mulvany



STANDARDS For abseiling, only use carabiners that meet the European standard EN 12275 or carry a UIAA safety label.

NOTE The most versatile type of carabiner for use in abseiling instruction is a large lockgate pear-shaped carabiner. Only these should be used for (b) D-shaped (a) Pear-shaped Italian hitches when using carabiner carabiner large diameter ropes. This will ensure smooth running. Figure 17 Carabiners

MATERIALS Both alloy and steel carabiners are suitable for abseiling. Being lighter, alloy carabiners are easier to handle. Steel carabiners are heavy but more robust; they are usually reserved for hard-wearing duties (for example, belay carabiner). Most abseil instructors use a mix of both alloy and steel. STEEL CARABINERS

• • •

Heavy Robust Good for hard-wearing duties such as belay


• •

Light Easier to handle

LOCKGATES Automatic lockgate carabiners automatically lock when the gate closes. These are available with double and triple action systems. Some people find them complex and awkward to open. Screwgates remain the most common locking carabiner in use with abseil training.


Another important detail to look for is, after the screw sleeve is in the locked position, the sleeve will have to rotate at least two full turns before the carabiner can be opened.

USE Carabiners are designed to be loaded from a maximum of two directions, small end up or small end down, lengthways. Avoid loading across the gate or subjecting a carabiner to a three-way loading (that is, three different load points within the carabiner).

Figure 18 Do not load a carabiner three ways.


Record/log purchase dates and use of carabiners (see figure 3b for an example of an equipment logbook)


Wash carabiners in clean warm water with a little dishwashing detergent, especially if used near salt water (to prevent corrosion)


Inspect regularly for wear, grooves, surface cracks, corrosion and distortion


Lubricate moving parts with a little silicon spray



Many older design screwgates have a habit of jamming the screw sleeve against the carabiner body. This occurs after the carabiner flexes, having been loaded with a body weight and then released. The standard practice has been to screw the gate home and then turn back up to a quarter of a turn to prevent jamming. Recent improvements in design mean this is no longer a problem with most new screwgate carabiners, but check before you purchase.

• Permanent marking of carabiners needs to be limited to colour painting the locking sleeves. Never engrave or metal stamp carabiners. • Dropping a carabiner from a height can result in dangerous unseen fractures in the metal. Inspect regularly for signs of wear. • If you have the slightest doubt, never hesitate to discard a carabiner.

Care needs to be taken that a descender is not sited with a levering load on the locking mechanism. It is possible to break the end part of the locking sleeve, which could result in the carabiner opening and unclipping the descender.

Figure 19 Do not site a descender with a levering load on the carabiner’s gate.

LIFE OF CARABINERS The useful lifetime of carabiners depends on the types of environment they are used in and the amount of use they get. With occasional use and no wear and tear, they should last up to 10 years, but they need to be checked frequently. Manufacturers’ instructions should always be followed. A carabiner should be retired if it has any of the following: • Deformation. Is it out of its original shape due to cross-loading or having had excessive force applied? • Unusual or inhibited gate operation. Firstly ensure the pin isn’t bent, then if you’ve cleaned and lubricated it and it still doesn’t open or close as it’s supposed to, it’s time to retire it. • Deep and obvious grooves (other than small scrapes). It should also be retired if it: • Has been subjected to excessive force through misuse (like dropping). • Has been exposed to extreme heat (like fire) or aggressive chemicals (like battery acid or petrochemicals). If there are any of the above signs or occurrences, it should be retired immediately. If in doubt, throw it out. 26









PHOTO Jimmy Ponsford



Abseil devices are robust metal objects that give the user control over the speed of their descent. They do this by creating friction between the device and the rope. They are often multi-use: able to be used for both belaying a climber and descending the rope. There are many different types of abseiling devices with specialised designs for use in different industries. In this chapter we will touch on the most common devices used for group abseiling instructional situations.

NOTE These particular types of descenders are best suited to short (single pitch) abseils due to the heat created on the descent.

STANDARDS Only use descenders that are designed for mountaineering or climbing and that meet the European standard EN 15151 or carry a UIAA safety label.

FIGURE OF EIGHT DESCENDER This is perhaps the best known abseil device; it is used by training institutes, climbers, military, schools and mountaineers on Mount Everest. It is simple to use, versatile, compact, inexpensive and lightweight. The figure of eight is recommended for abseil training with beginners. You may use the figure of eight with single or double ropes. With a single rope it can have single or double turns of the rope around the descender for additional friction. After fitting the rope to the figure of eight it is important the section of rope around the waist of the descender is on top, facing the abseiler as in Figure 20(a,b). Failure to do this could result in this section of rope being on the bottom of the descender, catching on a rock edge, and being forced up to the top of the figure of eight, locking it off with a lark’s foot. Figure 20(b) shows a descender with an additional turn of rope. This would provide extra friction, slowing the abseil descent. This could be useful with a very smooth (new) rope and/or a heavy person.






Figure 20 Figure of eight descenders

The descender shown in Figure 20(c) shows the rope incorrectly looped around the bottom of the figure of eight. However, this descender has ears to prevent the rope being forced up and over the top and locking off with a lark’s foot.

Figure 21 Clipping onto a figure of eight

The method of attaching the rope to the descender in Figure 21 is recommended as a standard attachment method for an instructor to use before abseiling themselves. This method has the advantage of leaving the abseiler’s hands free to pull up the weight of the abseil rope and thread a loop up into the figure of eight. It also considerably reduces the risk of the descender being dropped. When abseiling participants, it is standard practice for the instructor to pre-rig the figure of eight before the participant approaches.





Figure 22 Three ways of backing up a belay plate using Prusiks

Some examples of belay-abseil plates and tubes include BD ATC and DMM Bug devices. In an abseiling instruction situation, this device is most likely to be used by the instructor rather than the students. It is easy to tie off when Prusiking (for use as a backup) and is favoured by mountaineers and rock climbers over the figure of eight due to its extra friction and lighter weight. These devices are designed for short-pitch abseiling only. As the instructor, you would usually use a Prusik as an abseil safety, so that if you were to let go of the rope while abseiling the Prusik would grip the rope and you would stop moving. Figure 22(a) is a classic Prusik or Klemheist Prusik positioned above you. You would mainly use this method if you were intending to Prusik back up the rope at some stage in your abseil (as in part of a rescue). One issue that you may encounter with this system is that it doesn’t easily bump-release under load, so once weighted it can be very difficult to unweight without using a foot Prusik. Also if you were to let go, all of your weight would be taken onto a single Prusik. Figure 22(b) shows a French Prusik attached to the leg loop of the harness. This system is more often used for general abseiling where you wouldn’t expect to need to Prusik back up the rope. Because the Prusik is holding the rope in the locked-off position, most of the weight is taken up by the abseil device. This means that there is very little weight actually going onto the Prusik so


NOTE It is essential that any Prusik used in this method is short enough that it doesn’t push against the abseil device and slip or get jammed. If this is an issue or if you would prefer not to use your leg loop, another option is the method shown in Figure 22(c).

Figure 22(c) shows a French Prusik attached to the belay loop. The abseil device is extended from the belay loop out in front of you using a sling or a cowstail. This method stops the Prusik being knocked by the abseil device and slipping or jamming.

CARE OF ABSEIL DEVICES Abseil devices are made of alloy and/or steel. • If you drop these devices from any height, especially onto a hard surface, discard them, as unseen internal fractures occur in alloy and steel. • Abseil devices wear quickly, especially if using dirty ropes. The grit in the rope works like a file or sandpaper, grinding away the metal. • Follow the manufacturers’ instructions on when to retire abseil devices due to wear. The amount of acceptable wear is usually somewhere between 10 and 20 percent. • Watch out for sharp edges developing or grooves appearing. • Wash abseil devices in warm clean water with dishwashing detergent, especially if exposed to salt air or seawater. • Inspect and treat as for carabiners.



the attachment point (leg loop) does not need to be rated. Having the Prusik attached below the abseil device in this way also has the added advantage of being able to be bump-released under load. However, it is recommended that you avoid this method if using a harness made of low-friction webbing with adjustable leg loops.








PHOTO Nathan Watson



STANDARDS Climbing harnesses are produced to two standards worldwide: the UIAA standard and the European standard (EN 12277). The standards are similar, as the UIAA standard is based on the European standard. By law, any product sold in Europe must be certified to the European standards by an organisation other than the manufacturer. This is not true in other countries, though major manufacturers hoping to sell their products in Europe now aim to meet the European standards. Most climbing harnesses manufactured in New Zealand aim to meet or exceed EN 12277. For the purpose of instructional abseiling, the easiest harness to use is one that has a single obvious connection point and, ideally, sewn-on harness use information.

CARE OF HARNESSES Harnesses are manufactured from flat nylon and polyester webbing. Buckles are usually metal. You must care for them in the same way as for ropes and carabiners. Wash and inspect regularly, giving special attention to exposed stitching. Subject to wear, you can expect up to five years of life from a harness.

TYPES OF HARNESS Climbing harnesses are manufactured in three body styles. • One piece full body harness. This is mostly used in industrial applications. • Sit harness – made of a combination of leg loops, buttock straps and waist belt. The waist belt is always fitted firmly above the hips. This is the most common harness used in abseiling and is the connection point for the abseil device. • Chest harness – composed of a broad chest strap with shoulder straps. It is always used in combination with, and connected to, a sit harness.


The abseil device is usually connected to the mid-waist area. This keeps the abseil device below eye level and hands in optimal control position. The abseiler balances in a sitting position to descend. The belay rope can be connected to the mid-chest area ensuring the abseiler will be held upright in the event of an accident or if they overbalance.

Figure 23 Full body harness

SIT HARNESS The abseil device and belay safety rope connect to the belay loop, which comes in different configurations depending on the type of harness being used. The two most common types of attachment are the horizontal attachment point and the vertical attachment loop. The horizontal attachment point will allow the figure of eight to sit in a horizontal plane whereas the vertical loop will twist the figure of eight into a vertical plane. This requires greater thought when initially attaching the figure of eight device. It will usually self level once the abseiler weights the rope. The sit harness functions well so long as the abseiler remains in an upright position. If the abseiler turns upside down it may be possible for the abseiler to fall from an ill-fitting harness. For a correct fit: • The waist belt must be above the hips and it should cross just below the belly button – this will be impossible if the leg loops are too tight. • The waist belt should be tight enough to allow you to slide a flat hand between the wearer and the waist belt, but if you then make a fist you should not be able to easily pull it back out. • The leg loops should fit snugly. They should initially be loosened off to allow correct adjustment of the waist belt and are last to be tightened. • All buckles need to be locked and doubled back, if appropriate.




Figure 24 Sit harness


PHOTO Aspiring Enterprises

Modern manufactured chest harnesses are easy to fit and adjust. They are linked to the sit harness via a carabiner and provide added security for topheavy participants or participants with narrower hips. If you are concerned about your participant inverting, you can attach the belay rope directly to the purpose-built high attachment point on the chest harness. This acts like a full body harness. When weighted, it transfers the load to the sit harness and holds the person in the upright position. If there is no designated attachment point on the chest harness, or if you are using an improvised chest harness, it is important that the belay rope is attached directly to the sit harness with a secondary attachment to the chest harness (if required). This way, if the weight comes onto the belay rope it is still taken primarily by the sit harness.

Figure 25 Chest harness (manufactured)


Figure 26 Chest harness (improvised)



An improvised chest harness using a sling or rope is a great tool to have in your bag of tricks, but it should only be used in an emergency.






PHOTO Nathan Watson



HELMETS Helmets are essential safety-wear for people at any abseil site where there is the possibility of falling or being struck by falling objects. At many sites only the abseiler is exposed to falling objects. A helmet provides additional protection if the abseiler loses balance/footing and swings into the rock face, striking their head. The instructor should always wear a helmet and be prepared to respond to an abseil emergency. The best type of helmet for abseiling is a climbing/mountaineering helmet that complies with European standard EN12492.

CARE AND LIFE OF HELMETS Follow manufacturers’ instructions, as care and life expectancy of equipment will vary greatly between manufacturers.

CLOTHING Clothing needs to be suitable for the environment. Avoid abseiling in clothing with loose or attached items, like scarves, ear flaps on hats or toggles of hoodies, that may interfere with the abseil device or restrict your vision of safety equipment. Ensure long hair is tied well out of the way and tucked down the back of the person’s shirt.

FOOTWEAR Lace-up shoes or boots with a non-slip sole are the most appropriate footwear for abseiling.


PHOTO Orton Bradley Outdoor Education Centre







Anchors are usually regarded as the most critical link in the abseil system. They are composed of features to which abseilers fix or tie. Apart from load testing there is no way to know the strength of rock, soils and trees. It will always be your judgement call. Large, healthy trees are generally regarded as sound anchors. Trees are regularly tested by wind loadings that can act as an effective safety benchmark. Fence strainer posts, correctly footed with breastplates and with rammed soil, can provide robust abseil anchors. Large steel anchors set in rock or concrete on engineering advice are a feature of many established abseil sites. Mountaineers and rock climbers use lightweight portable anchors that they fit into rock, snow and ice. Use of this equipment requires a high level of skill and judgement. Frequently two, three or more of these devices are required to make one sound anchor. Never permit participants to run or jump sideways across the cliff while abseiling; this can shock load anchors and damage equipment. Remember: Gravity never sleeps – ALWAYS have bombproof anchors.

LOAD SHARING Where it is practicable, loadings should be shared equally between anchors. The key factors when setting up anchors are ensuring that the focal point is: • High (a high focal point will make for an easy transition over the lip for the participant and will lesson the likelihood of them inverting). • Positioned so that when the anchor is loaded each strand is weighted equally and is at an appropriate angle to avoid large vector forces. The angles formed by the linked ropes will determine how much force is applied to the anchor. The greater the angle, the higher the load placed on anchors and attachment equipment. An angle greater than ninety degrees is undesirable for abseil anchors. A practical recommended angle is 45 degrees (Figures 28, 29 and 30). 54kg anchor load

54kg anchor load 50kg anchor load

50kg anchor load

300kg anchor load


100kg abseiler

100kg abseiler 71kg anchor load

71kg anchor load

90° 100kg abseiler

Figure 27 Load sharing



100kg abseiler

300kg anchor load

CHAPTER 7 | ANCHOR SYSTEMS Attachment point

Attachment point

Here, four short ropes or slings are used to form two separate attachment points. Each attachment point is individually linked to each anchor. This provides a very safe system. Separate attachment points make for easy rope management.

Figure 28 Attaching anchors using multiple slings or ropes


Pass one length of rope around both trees and tie with a double fisherman’s knot. Bring the back centre of the rope forward to the front centre and tie both in one figure of eight knot. Tie the figure of eight in such a way as to have two loops. This provides for ease of rope management when connecting abseil and belay ropes.

Figure 29 Attaching anchors using one large sling or rope


CHAPTER 7 | ANCHOR SYSTEMS Here three rock bollards are used, each with a tape sling and lockgate carabiner. Link the slings with a length of static rope connected together with a figure of eight knot. Tie the figure of eight knot in such a way as to have two loops, one much larger than the other. This provides for ease of rope management when connecting abseil and belay ropes.

Figure 30 Attaching anchors using three anchors


In this situation it is not practical to connect anchors as in Figures 28 and 29. Two separate sound anchors are used. Anchor slings must be sufficiently robust, as strong or greater in strength than the rope.

Figure 31 Attaching anchors using two separate sound anchors


Figure 32 Abseil set-up


(a) Tied-off Italian hitch, clipped back

(b) Running Italian hitch


(c) Figure of eight descender rigged for abseil








PHOTO NIigel Seebeck



Prior to arriving at the site the instructor should have: • Prepared a safety management plan. • Undertaken appropriate site access protocols. • Given the participants a sound understanding of the activity content.

ROPE ESTABLISHMENT 1. Boundaries should be clearly defined, identified for the group and roped off if required. 2. The instructor throws the end of the rope to the edge of the cliff where they will be belaying from. They then pull it back to approximately 30cm before the lip, and tie this off to the anchor using a figure of eight on a bight in a screwgate carabiner. 3. The instructor retrieves the rope by pulling it back up and ties a figure of eight on a bight into the end. They clip this into their belay loop with a screwgate carabiner. Clipping in rather than tying in allows for an easy, fast escape from the system if required. 4. The instructor attaches a classic Prusik onto this safety line and clips this to their belay loop using a screwgate carabiner. This allows for safe access to the lip and gives the instructor the ability to move around without risking a large fall. They can do this by sliding the Prusik with them up or down the rope as they move around. The safety rope does not need to be an exact length as it is possible to make minor adjustments while in place, using the Prusik, which is backed up by the rope. 5. The instructor is now fixed belayed and can set up the abseil rope/s. 6. Abseil rope/s should be set so that they are just above the landing ground at the bottom of the cliff. In this way the abseiler will reach the ground the same time the rope ends. The advantage of this is that the abseiler is not walking on the rope and is not required to remove rope from the abseil device. 7. The abseil rope/s should be anchored with a tied-off Italian hitch (Figure 12) and the spare rope stored in a rope bag or in such a way that the rope would flow out without getting caught during a rescue event.


The recommended belay technique to use is the Italian hitch. This system gives the maximum flexibility in belaying and rescue scenarios. Belay ropes are always fed into a heap so that they feed out without knots and twists to the belayer/belay device.

Figure 33 Instructors’ safety line set-up


From belayer when throwing abseil rope end down cliff.


From abseiler once safe on the ground.


From abseiler once disconnected from all ropes.





PHOTO Nathan Watson




It is preferable to have a dry run on a grassy slope or in a classroom setting with the participant/s prior to arrival on site. They will then have used the abseil device and have an understanding of the requirements and concept of the abseil activity. Once the instructor has completed all the prerequisites, established participant zones and completed ropes set-up, the site is ready for abseil instruction: 1. The instructor moves into the participant safe zone and checks the participant’s helmet, harness, clothing and hair (to ensure it won’t get tangled in the abseil device). Communicating in a confident, caring manner, the instructor encourages and supports. 2. The instructor connects the belay rope to the participant, adjusts the belay rope and informs the participant they are on belay. 3. The participant moves to the abseil ropes descender attachment point. Advise the participant to stand with the abseil rope on the control hand side. Instructor then attaches the in situ figure of eight device while maintaining the participant on belay (they may consider tying off the belay line at this point if required). The rope is adjusted to be firm between the participant and the anchor. The instructor always keeps the participant informed about what is happening. 4. Following a double check of harness, lockgates, clothing, etc. the instructor lets the participant know everything is okay. The participant informs the instructor he/she is abseiling. Now follows the most difficult part of abseiling for the participant: leaning out, being fully dependent on the rope and totally trusting the instructor. Applying a little confidence tension on the belay rope, the instructor (in an easy manner) reminds the abseiler about the things they covered in the dry run: • To hold the abseil rope/s back beside the hip with their control hand and place their free hand on the harness connection point. Note: Some instructors favour having both hands in the control hand position. • To keep their feet a little wider apart than shoulder width, their knees straight and their heels on the rock. • To lean out slowly without moving their feet until they are at about a sixty degree angle with the rock. Descent should be slow; no running or jumping from side to side. Encourage the participant to enjoy themselves or distract them if needed by saying things like ‘looking good’ and ‘great view from there’. When the participant reaches the ground they stand and call ‘safe’. The participant disconnects from the ropes and calls ‘rope free’. The instructor ensures the participant moves from the fall zone at the base of the cliff. At most abseil sites it is possible to have a dedicated unclipper at the bottom, usually a parent or teacher. If this is the case, it is important that they are wearing a helmet as well.


REMEMBER The instructor is a role model and must have full equipment and suitable clothing, and communicate effectively and appropriately.





PHOTO Nathan Watson



Most instructors will probably have experienced an event that was not part of the intended abseil instruction. These incidents range from minor to life-threatening. A sound, well-structured safety management plan is the starting point for dealing with an abseil emergency. The plan covers information such as who to contact, how and where to contact them, first aid and rescue equipment, and participant medication. The instructor will have practised and be familiar with methods of lowering, descending or ascending ropes, to effect a rescue. A potentially life-threatening condition called compartment syndrome or crush syndrome can occur when a person is suspended motionless in a harness. The harness acts as a tourniquet, allowing toxins to build up in the blood. This can occur in less than ten minutes. When the harness pressure is removed the sudden release of toxins can result in cardiac arrest. An injured or ill person connected only to a sit harness can be suspended horizontally or upside-down. In this position the person would be likely to lose consciousness in about five minutes. In the event of an emergency it is important that the instructor remains calm and thinks issues through in a rational manner.

RESCUE TECHNIQUES The two main types of rescue that the instructor is likely to encounter are the dual-line lower and single-line lower.

DUAL-LINE LOWER Use this when the participant is unable to complete the abseil for whatever reason (maybe they have frozen and won’t release the device or are physically unable to assist). In this case, both ropes – the belay rope and the main line – need to be lowered simultaneously and smoothly. 1. Reassure the participant and explain what is about to happen. Keep this communication going throughout. 2. Keep hold of the belay rope in the locked-off position without tying it off. This rope is your priority. It is what will take up the tension, so never let it go. 3. Carefully release the main line by undoing the half hitches from the tied-off Italian hitch until it is in the lower position. It is good to warn the participant that they may feel a slight jerk from the rope as you do this. 4. If possible, move into a position where you can see the participant the whole way down while maintaining personal safety.


If the MAIN line is not long enough, you can drop this rope as it comes to the end and continue lowering using only the belay line. It is important not to drop the main line on the person being lowered and to ensure that you do not drop the belay line.

SINGLE-LINE LOWER Use this, for example, when the participant has got their T-shirt or hair jammed in their abseil device. In this scenario, there are a couple of options. The most straightforward is to ask the participant to stand up on a ledge or outcrop while you take up the slack on the belay line and get them to release the object. Failing that, releasing the main line is the next most straightforward option. 1. Tie off the belay line. This is the line that will take up the tension. 2. Release the main line until it is loose. 3. Ask the participant to remove the jammed item from the device. 4. Tighten up the main line and re-tie off the Italian hitch. 5. Untie the half hitches from the belay line so that they are back on belay. It is good to warn the participant that they may feel a slight jerk from the rope as you do this. 6. Ask the participant to hold the main line as if they were abseiling. Lower the participant until their weight comes back onto the main line. 7. Continue with the abseil as per usual. If this is not possible for whatever reason, you could: • Tie off the belay line and abseil to the participant using self protection on the remainder of the belay rope (the loose end), free the jammed object and continue abseiling to the ground. Ensure the rope is long enough before attempting this. Then you can return to the top belay station and continue with the abseil or lower the participant to the ground. • Abseil to the participant in the manner described above and then return to the top using Prusik slings. This is good if your rope is too short or if the participant is near the top part of the abseil. To avoid abseiling off the end of the rope, remember to tie a large knot in the end of the rope if it does not reach the ground. • Descend and ascend using Prusik slings only. Use this method if there is no loose rope available. Prusiking down a rope is a difficult technique and, as with all rescue techniques, it is recommended that the user is comfortable with the techniques before needing to use them in a real situation. The method you choose will depend on the circumstances. On most occasions, good communication skills will avert or resolve on-rope abseil issues. It is better to practise prevention than cure!



5. Slowly lower the participant to the ground using both ropes at the same time.

PRUSIK SKILLS Figure 34 illustrates a basic Prusik system using two 6mm Prusik slings, with total lengths of 3–4 meters and 2.5 metres. The lengths will vary a little depending on factors such as a person’s physical size, length of reach.

See figure 35 and 36

Figure 34 Prusik system

NOTE If using Spectra for Prusik slings the ropes should be joined with a triple fisherman’s knot.


ASCENDING THE ROPE If you have used the Prusik attached above you for safety, you are halfway there already. If not, then: 1. Take the small loop (waist Prusik) and attach it to the rope using a classic or Klemheist Prusik knot above you. 2. Connect this to the sit harness connection point using a screwgate carabiner. 3. Attach the long loop (the foot Prusik) to the rope using a Classic Prusik or Klemheist Prusik. Allow it to hang without clipping it in. This is attached between the waist Prusik and the abseil device (you can remember the order they are attached in by remembering that your feet are below your waist). 4. Before moving off, ensure that all carabiners are done up and that you have removed your French leg Prusik (if you have one). 5. Start to ascend the rope by pushing up the leg Prusik, standing up on this and sliding your waist Prusik up the rope. Sit back and unweight your foot Prusik then repeat. 6. You must stop and re-tie your descender approximately every 2 metres by untying it, taking in the slack and re-tying it off. This is very important as it is your backup in case of Prusik failure. The process is reversed for descent although it is a little more difficult as you have to judge the distance to fix the Prusik knot below you. Ideally you would change to abseil for any descent of more than a couple of metres. Prusik slings are not as strong as the rope and are the weak link in this system. It is recommended that the rope be connected through a tied-off abseil device attached to the sit harness (Figure 35 and 36). This would provide sound backup in the event of Prusik sling failure.



If you have abseiled down and reached the participant, you now need to appropriately tie off your abseil device using one of the methods described on the following page, before assisting the participant. You can then either untie and continue to abseil to the ground or Prusik back up the rope.

TYING OFF A FIGURE OF EIGHT DESCENDER To tie off a figure of eight descender using a single lock, the line is passed between the upper edge (body) of the device and is held in position by the rope itself. A single pass by itself is not recommended as it has a tendency to slip. Next bring a bight of rope down through the carabiner to create a loop. Using this loop, tie off using 2–3 half hitches or a mule knot finished with an overhand knot. Remember to leave plenty of tail.

Figure 35 Single locked figure of eight descender

TYING OFF A BELAY PLATE To tie off a belay plate, first bring the rope down into the locked-off position and feed a bight through the carabiner so that you have a good sized loop of rope. Bring this up to the loaded rope above the device and tie 2–3 half hitches. Finish by leaving a long tail.

Figure 36 Tying off a belay plate








PHOTO Nathan Watson






Â? Â?

Rope Log Entry Rope Log Book Book Entry Rope Logbook Entry Branded Branded colour colour code: code: Date Date of of purchase: purchase:

........................ ........................ ......../......./....... ......../......./.......

Start Start date: date: Retirement Retirement date: date:

......../......./....... ......../......./....... ......../......./....... ......../......./.......

Work Work history history Date Date

Instructor Instructor

Type: .............. .............. Type: Diameter/Length: ........................ ........................ Diameter/Length: or after: after: or

Wear/Damage/Cleaning Wear/Damage/Cleaning

........... abseils, abseils, whichever whichever occurs occurs first. first. ...........

Total abseils abseils Total

Running Running total abseils abseils total

Equipment Log Book Entry Equipment Logbook Entry Equipment Equipment item item

Purchase Purchase date date

......../......./....... ......../......./.......

Record of of damage/repairs/inspection/cleaning damage/repairs/inspection/cleaning Record

Retirement Retirement date date ......../......./....... ......../......./.......

Actual Actual retirement retirement date date ......../......./....... ......../......./.......




The following is a list of European standards from the CEN (ComitĂŠ EuropĂŠen de Normalisation/European Committee for Standardization) related to abseiling equipment. STANDARD


EN 341

Personal protective equipment against falls from a height: Descenders

EN 361

Personal protective equipment against falls from a height: Full body harnesses

EN 362

Personal protective equipment against falls from a height: Connectors

EN 564

Mountaineering equipment: Accessory cords

EN 565

Mountaineering equipment: Webbing

EN 566

Mountaineering equipment: Slings

EN 567

Mountaineering equipment: Rope clamps (ascenders)

EN 813

Personal protective equipment against falls from a height: Sit harnesses

EN 892

Personal protective equipment against falls from a height: Dynamic ropes

EN 1891

Personal protective equipment against falls from a height: Low stretch ropes

EN 12275

Connectors (carabiners)

EN 12277

Mountaineering and climbing harnesses

EN 12492

Helmets for mountaineering

EN 15151

Mountaineering equipment: Braking devices (descenders)

For more information, see




Follow these simple guidelines to enjoy your activity with minimal impact on the environment and other people: •

Fixed equipment must not be left in place at any site unless you have permission to do so.

Actively manage your group at the site to minimise trampling and damage to the surrounding vegetation.

Avoid using trees or other vegetation for belay points, if there is no alternative, protect them from rope damage to the best of your ability by using rope protectors or webbing.

Do not disturb vegetation as you will encourage erosion and promote the spread of pest plant species.

Do not brush moss or lichen from the cliff unless absolutely necessary for safety reasons.

Avoid disturbing historical and archaeological sites and geographic features.

Always use established tracks to approach and move between descents. Where this is not possible or multiple tracks exist, take a moment to decide which track is the most appropriate and/or control the group to have minimal impact (even if it means taking a longer way around).

Try to avoid steep access and assent tracks which are more prone to erosion, especially by larger groups.

Where ever possible choose sites that have a rocky base and top that can tolerate groups without causing vegetation damage and erosion of the area around the abseil.

Do not block tracks with equipment or belayers.

Be aware of and courteous with other groups, individual climbers and other recreational users of the area. Do not assume you have a right to occupy certain climbs simply because you were there first. Negotiate!

Respect the rights of others for quiet enjoyment of the outdoors. Try to minimise your noise at the abseiling site.


Always use clean gear and equipment. Wash all soil from camping and personal equipment, vehicles and river gear before leaving home or moving between locations to avoid transporting seeds or soil-borne pathogens.

Camp carefully.

Take all your rubbish with you when you leave.

Only light fires where permitted.

Sourced in June 2013 from the Department of Conservation website, http:// activity-minimal-impact-codes/abseiling-care-code/ For the most up-to-date information, please contact DOC.

WEBSITES New Zealand Mountain Safety Council AdventureSmart European Committee for Standardisation Leave No Trace New Zealand – Outdoor ethics MetService – New Zealand weather forecasts New Zealand Department of Conservation Support Adventure Tourism New Zealand – Abseiling abseilingrappelling/


CONTRIBUTORS ABOUT BRUCE POSTILL Bruce Postill has been abseiling for 50 years, both in New Zealand and Australia, with 45 of those as an instructor. His experiences include eight years with the SAR team in the Mount Cook/Fox area, working in the film industry as a stunt double, co-authoring an abseil instruction book, and authoring a rock climbing guidebook. Bruce is currently employed by the Department of Conservation with one of his responsibilites being abseil instruction, and is a volunteer abseil instructor (along with bushcraft and outdoor first aid) with the MSC.

ABOUT NIGEL SEEBECK Nigel Seebeck has been involved in the outdoors for the last few decades, with a keen interest in alpine, abseil, rock climbing and anything rope related. He holds MSC rope rescue instructor qualifications, and contributes nationally to MSC programmes as well as to the Wellington branch. He is a previous editor of the MSC’s Abseiling Manual and a technical contributor for MSC and other rescue organisations. The programmes he is involved with benefit from his wealth of experience in alpine and rock, both in New Zealand and overseas.

ABOUT KAREN CORCORAN Karen Corcoran is a tramper, rock climber, mountaineer and backcountry skier. She has combined her passion for the outdoors with a successful career as a professional outdoor instructor and adventure guide in these disciplines. As well as volunteering as a LandSAR Alpine and Cliff Rescue team member, she is an instructor for the Canterbury branch of the MSC. She currently brings this knowledge and experience to the MSC full-time as the Programme Manager for Outdoor Land Safety.

ABOUT ANDREA CORRIGAN Andrea Corrigan is an experienced marketing and communications professional with a passion for sports, recreation and the outdoors. Andrea is a regular contributor to a number of magazines including Adventure, Ki Waho, NZ Ski & Snow and the Fishing Paper & New Zealand Hunting News. Her work has appeared in many other newspapers, websites and publications. She has also designed and implemented a number of successful outdoor safety promotional campaigns across New Zealand. In her current role at the MSC, she manages a number of publishing projects and websites, as well as all aspects of social media, media engagement and communications.



A abseil devices 28–31 belay-abseil plates/tubes 30–31, 60 care and life of 31 figure of eight 28–29

carabiners 16, 18–19, 24–26, 45, 50, 59–60 care of 25–26 life of 26 lockgate 18, 24, 45 screwgate 24–25, 50, 59 care code 64–65 clothing 40

anchors 42–47

clove hitch 18

load sharing 42

communication (on-site) 51, 54

ropes 11

compartment syndrome 56

slings 11, 14, 43–46

cordalettes 11 crush syndrome 56



beginners, training of 28 belay ropes 10, 51

emergency planning 4–5

belay techniques 51

emergency procedures 56–59

belay-abseil plates/tubes 30–31, 60


F figure of eight descenders 28–29, 47, 60

calls 51, 54

figure of eight knots 16–17 first aid 7


fisherman’s bend 17 footwear 40


French Prusik hitches 20–21, 30–31 Outdoor Safety Code 5–6



harnesses 31, 34–37 care of 34 chest harness 36–37 full body 35 sit harness 35–36 standards 34 helmets 40

I information sources 5

planning emergency 4 pre-trip 5–6 safety 5 Prusiks 11, 30–31, 50

hitches 20–21

use of 57–59


instruction 54 instructors’ roles and methods 2–4, 30, 40,

rescue techniques 56–57

50–51, 54

risk management 2–4 zones 3–4

in rescues 56–58

Italian hitch 18–19, 47, 50–51

ropes 10–13

abseil ropes 10

anchor ropes 11

belay ropes 10

care of 12–13

life of 12

protectors 12

Klemheist Prusik hitches 21, 30

set-up on site 50

knots 16–22

standards 11

storage 12–13

strengths 10, 11, 16

washing 12–13


L lockgate carabiners 18, 24, 45 logbooks 7, 62


S safety plans 5 screwgate carabiners 24–25, 50, 59 site set-up 50–51 slings 14, 22, 31, 37, 57–59 in anchors 11, 14, 43–46 standards 63

carabiners 24

descenders 28

harnesses 34

ropes 11

slings 14

supplies 6

T tape knots 16, 22 training 54

W weather 6 webbing 14, 31

joining 22

websites 65